Fewer guns, more roses

The children of Hat Yai -- and their parents -- were expecting an exciting Children's Day, until a Royal Thai Air Force fly-by went horribly wrong. A Swedish-made JAS 39C Gripen jet, flown by Sqn Ldr Dilokrit Pattavee, suddenly lost altitude, crashed and burned during an air show at Wing 56 in Songkhla province. Thousands of horrified children watched the death of Sqn Ldr Dilokrit. The crash of the air force jet is the strongest reminder of why military shows are not just inappropriate for youngsters, but even dangerous and traumatic.

The military is setting up a committee of inquiry Monday to try to learn the reason for the Gripen losing its flight capability. Such a committee is standard procedure for every aircraft incident worldwide. Experts and officers will report their findings on what caused the sudden flight breakdown, which usually is pinned on human error or equipment failure. That conclusion, when it is written after months of study and meetings, will neither console the family of Sqn Ldr Dilokrit or stop the nightmares of the children who were watching.

Military exhibitions and shows have long been a staple of Children's Day in Thailand. The reason is the country has been governed mostly by military administrations for the past few generations. It is natural that the first response of a military regime, when asked how it will impress or entertain children, to answer, "Show them the guns". It's a rare military careerist who would think otherwise.

Military exhibitions are a poor choice for Children's Day. If anything, it turns the single national day specifically designated for young people into a show for adults, run by adults. Children may play among the tanks and artillery pieces and parked helicopters. But it is neither their natural habitat or, except for the children of military families, the most entertaining venue for such a day.

It was somewhat embarrassing that spokesman Pongsak Semachai went to the Air Force's Facebook page to urge the public to be sensitive to the feelings of the family of the dead pilot. Certainly he had a point, not that he could halt the dissemination of hundreds of personal videos of the crash. Sqn Ldr Dilokrit's family deserve respect and privacy, but both they and the public realise the pilot's death took place at a unique time.

His flight at Wing 26 headquarters was scheduled for a time when there was the maximum number of spectators. It is natural for members of the shocked crowd to share their feelings over the tragedy, illustrated by the videos and photos they took. A serious point deserving of close, serious and sober consideration by the military regime is this: if the military had refrained from glorifying war weapons on Children's Day, the pilot would be alive.

On Children's Day -- of all days on the national holiday calendar -- young people deserve to receive entertainment for children. The military head of government and his cabinet ministers should be able to come up with better themes and activities more fitting for youngsters than displays of military might.

In one popular case, it did. The Prime Minister's Office transported 20 life-size dinosaur models from museums in the Northeast to Government House in Bangkok. This was the act of a government that shows it can do better than show off military hardware.

Sqn Ldr Dilokrit Pattavee will be mourned by family and colleagues, and remembered by thousands of children who watched him die. His death should be the turning point.

Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has urged the armed forces and the police to strictly observe safety procedures in their demonstrations. But such demonstrations should no longer be considered for children. Future governments should move away from exposing children to military pomposity on Children's Day.

About the author

Writer: Editorial
Position: Bangkok Post editorial column